Italy’s senate softens cabinet’s mandatory vaccines bill

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The Italian senate on Tuesday began discussing a controversial decree by cabinet making vaccines mandatory for school children, partly softening the rules provided by the provision.

Mandatory vaccinations would be cut down from 12 to 10, according to the new version of the bill, which was modified and approved by the Senate Health Commission on Monday night.

The decree had been approved by Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni’s cabinet on May 19, and needs to be passed by Parliament within 60 days in order to become law.

The mandatory vaccinations would now be those against polio, diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, hepatitis B, haemophilia B, and whooping cough.

These will be required in order for all children to be eligible for nursery school, affecting children from infancy to three years of age, and for those attending kindergarten (three to six-year-olds).

Four other vaccines, against meningitis B and C (previously mandatory), pneumonia, and rotavirus, will be “recommended.”

All 14 vaccines will be provided free of charge by the national health system.

The law would also foresee financial sanctions for parents of non-vaccinated pupils between the ages of seven and 16, when school attendance is compulsory in the country.

However, the new text lessens such measures. With the original decree, non-complying parents would have faced fines up to 7,500 euros (some 8,500 U.S. dollars), and even risked losing their parental custody.

The current version would reduce fines to up to 3,500 euros (about 4,000 U.S. dollars), and contain no risk that parents who chose not to follow the rules would be reported to the health authorities or lose their parental rights.

The amendment would also make the 10 vaccines compulsory for health, social, and school professionals.

Once approved by the Senate — where the cabinet was ready to call a confidence vote on the bill — it must go to the lower house to be definitively approved.

The provision is being discussed amid strong controversy in Italy over the utility of vaccines, and their safety.

A decrease in vaccinations has been reported lately, which health authorities say has contributed to the spike in the number of new infections such as measles.

Last week, the Italian National Health Institute (ISS) reported 3,346 cases of measles, two of which resulted in death, between Jan. 1 and July 2.

The ISS had reported 2,258 measles cases in 2013, 1,696 in 2014, 258 in 2015, and 862 in 2016.

Some 80 percent of the infections in 2017 involved non-vaccinated people, and 40 percent of them required hospitalization, according to the institute.

Italy changed its laws surrounding infant vaccinations from compulsory to voluntary in 1999.

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